June 12, 2000|BOOTH MOORE, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Imagine you're the general manager of a chic boutique hotel with a pesky ghost who won't vacate one of your high-priced villas. What to do? If you're Rod Gruendyke of West Hollywood's Sunset Marquis, you hire a medium and hold a seance . . . complete with red wine and tuna tartare.
"I'm a bit, um, embarrassed," said the buttoned-up Gruendyke. Since 1991, he's been at the hotel with the rock 'n' roll reputation. (It's played host to President Clinton, Gene Hackman, Ozzy Ozbourne and, most recently, spooky couple Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton.) As far as Gruendyke knows, no one has died in the hotel since it was built in the 1930s, although plenty of guests have left on stretchers. (Too much partying.)
"This is not a publicity stunt," hotel publicist Kelly Cutrone told the 13 seance guests, who included three reporters. We had gathered in a circle in the living room of Villa 2 South, a $1,200-a-night room with a balcony, rattan decor and, apparently, a ghost with a taste for upscale hotels.
"Rod has had a relationship with the spirit, and the hotel is about to undergo a major renovation," Cutrone said. "Out of concern for the spirit [and I think probably a need for closure], he asked me to find a psychic."
"Well, I don't usually do ghost-busting," said shiny-haired medium Jusstine Kenzer, who wore a black tunic with silver embroidery.
Over the years, guests--including the girl band appropriately named Bewitched--have seen strange shadows and heard thumping in the villa, Gruendyke said.
The maintenance man won't enter Villa 2 South by himself, and housekeepers have reported instances of towels left in one location that mysteriously show up in another.
But perhaps the strangest event involved Gruendyke's children, then 8 and 6, shortly after he took the job.
"One morning after the family stayed in the villa, they said, 'Daddy, you have the nicest staff! An old lady with gray hair came by and tucked us in last night.' " They said she was "like a grandmother," in a blouse and long skirt.
Before we began, one of the guests, Mary Permila, an Englishwoman who lives in India, passed out rock salt and chile peppers to everyone.
"To prevent effluvium," she said, meaning to ward off bad spirits, which was fine by me.
Rubbing her hands together, Kenzer tuned in immediately. (She's used to that; after all she does readings by e-mail from her Web site at www.psychicgirl.com.)
"What is her name?" asked a voice from the darkness.
"I'm not getting a real strong reading on that," Kenzer said. "Olga, maybe. O is important and M."
"This may seem superficial," said Cutrone, ever the publicist, "but was she in any films?"
"No, no. She wasn't there yet," Kenzer replied. "She was a starlet in training, but very beautiful."
The mysterious old woman encountered by the manager's children, said the medium, was a benign spirit who had come to protect them from the unhappy ghost.
Hard as I tried, I discerned no signals from the great beyond--no shadows, flickering candles, rustling bedclothes or knocking on the walls. I did hear a faint whistling. A sign from the spirit? Or someone calling a dog?
With a small waving motion, Kenzer attempted to "heal" the spirit. She instructed the group to concentrate on the colors white and purple to help.
Did it work?
"I guess it depends on whether you're a believer or not," Gruendyke said. "Only time will tell."